The Development Through Environment Protection Legislation Of Institution, Legal And Regulatory Controls On Uranium Mining In Northern Australia

Anderson, E. M. ; Atkinson, W. J.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 7
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1981
FOREWORD This paper is based on the authors' experience gained in the environmental assessment of major uranium projects in the former Department of Science and the Environment and Department of Home Affairs and Environment of the Australian Government. The authors gratefully acknowledge assistance received from colleagues within the Department of Home Affairs and Environment in the preparation of this paper. Special thanks go to Mr K.E. Thompson of the Department's Environment Division for his valuable comments and criticism. The views expressed in the paper are those of the authors alone and not the Australian Government or Dames & Moore. INTRODUCTION Uranium has been mined in Australia since 1954. A number of small scale mining and milling operations were active in the Northern Territory, in South Australia and in Queensland in the late fifties and early sixties. However, in the late sixties there was an increase in exploration activities in the expectation of an upsurge in world demand for uranium Substantial new resources were delineated in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. The most significant deposits were located in the Northern Territory, in what is called the Alligator Rivers Region located approximately 200 km east of Darwin. The Region is in the latitude of 13° South and thus lies within the Australian tropics (Figure 1). It consists of approximately 2.3 million hectares of natural wilderness containing much spectacular and attractive scenery. The area is noted for its abundant wildlife, particularly the waterbirds that gather on the flood-plains. Much of the vegetation is diverse and interesting. The Aboriginal population still maintains elements of the traditional way of life, and the spectacular Arnhem Land escarpment contains many of the best surviving examples of Aboriginal rock art. Numerous rich archaeological sites provide evidence of continuous human habitation for tens of thousands of years. Climatically, the Region is of the tropical monsoon type with a dry season from may to September and a "wet" from November to March. High intensity short period rainfall is characteristic, and the average annual precipitation is in the order of 1 350 mm. The monthly mean temperature ranges from 25° to 30°C throughout the year. The development of regulatory controls on uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region has been affected by the political status of the Northern Territory. While Australia is a federation, established as an independent self-governing country in 1901, it was not until 1978 that the Northern Territory became to any real extent self-governing. Prior to 1978, the Territory was administered through a special department of the Commonwealth (ie. the Federal Government). Under the Northern Territory (Self Government) Act 1978, administrative powers similar to those possessed by the Governments of the six founding Australian states were provided to the Territory Government. However, the Commonwealth government did not transfer to the Territory all such powers and functions, and in particular there has been, since 1978, a dual role for the Commonwealth and Territory Governments in the regulation of uranium development. Details of this role are provided later in this paper. RANGER URANIUM INQUIRY By 1973, major deposits had been discovered in the Alligator Rivers Region at Nabarlek, Ranger, Koongarra and Jabiluka. The estimated reserves and mine life expectancy of these deposits are given in Table I. Other radioactive anomalies have also been identified in the area but, as yet, they have not been delineated or evaluated. [ ] In 1974, an agreement was signed between the Commonwealth Government and Peko Mines Limited and the Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australia Limited for the joint development of the Ranger deposit. In July 1975, the Government announced a Commission of Inquiry under the provisions of the Commonwealth Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974, into the proposed Ranger development. The inquiry was known as the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry or more commonly, the Fox Inquiry after the presiding Commissioner, Mr Justice Fox.
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